Yesterday’s New York Times published an A-section article actually highlighting that, about 50 years before Rick Perry’s birth, his alma mater, Texas A&M, had Klansmen on campus: “In 1968, Mr. Perry left home for Texas A&M, a deeply conservative university whose yearbooks early in the century included Ku Klux Klan-robed students.” This wasn’t just an interesting historical tidbit, mind you, or evidence of how far Texas has come in the intervening century. Rather, it followed closely on the heels of the article’s opening sentence: “Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who often waxes nostalgic about his small-town roots, grew up in an almost all-white rural area where many referred to slingshots as ‘niggershooters.’”
The Times could have supplemented its Klansmen reference by noting that, 50 years earlier, Perry’s home state fought with the Confederacy on the side of slavery. So perhaps one should admire the Gray Lady’s restraint.
The Times did, however, add, “After leaving for Texas A&M, Mr. Perry found himself on a socially conservative campus where the dominant force was the all-male, almost all-white Corps of Cadets, which he joined, later coming to embody ‘Aggie’ spirit as a ‘yell leader.’” Later on, the story notes that in the intervening decades, the number of black students at A&M “has inched up now to 3.4 percent of the student body.” In other words, during his time at A&M, Perry would have been hard-pressed to find a group to join that wasn’t “almost all-white.” Perhaps the Times thinks the more virtuous course would have been for Perry to have abstained from involvement in any on-campus extracurricular activities whatsoever — or, perhaps better yet, not to have gone to college in his home state in the first place.
The whole tone of the story is that the discriminating Times reader should be suspicious of anyone from Texas, particularly West Texas (although A&M is not located in West Texas), on the subject of racial prejudice. Still, it is perhaps worth separating out the following, rather compelling, statements, which the Times includes but strongly suggests are somewhat beside the point:
“One of [Perry’s] early acts [as governor] was to appoint the first black justice to the Texas Supreme Court. A few months later, flanked by the parents of a black man who had been dragged to death behind a pickup truck, he signed a hate crimes bill that Mr. Bush had blocked. Over his three terms as governor, he has nurtured relationships with black leaders, including the head of the Texas N.A.A.C.P., who extols the governor’s open-mindedness....
“Even his fiercest critics in Texas say that racism is not on their short, or even long, list of Mr. Perry’s sins….
“‘I cannot imagine that he would have that kind of bias,’ said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas N.A.A.C.P., whom the governor appointed a Texas Southern University regent. ‘I’ve never seen any of that in him.’…
“Frederick D. McClure, who is a black alumnus [of Texas A&M] and a friend of the governor’s, said he found the atmosphere there not alienating, but energizing….
“Now managing director of a Washington law firm, Mr. McClure was elected student body president in 1976 [just four years after Perry graduated]. He met Mr. Perry a couple of years later, approaching him when he noticed his A&M ring, and the two men bonded ‘as Aggies and as Texans,’ said Mr. McClure, who went on to serve as an A&M regent.
“‘I sang at his wedding in Haskell, Texas,’ Mr. McClure said of Mr. Perry. ‘He drove in a rental U-Haul truck with me from Houston to D.C. I swore him in as commissioner of agriculture. If he doesn’t like black people or finds them to be “less than,” he certainly hasn’t shown it to me.’”